Lowe aside, Braves’ offseason may lack major moves

Frank Wren's next move will be lower profile than the Derek Lowe signing.

Frank Wren and Derek Lowe did not have a news conference to say goodbye. (Brant Sanderlin)

The St. Louis Cardinals made the playoffs on the final day of the season only because the Braves collapsed, but won the World Series. So there’s a school of thought that maybe if the Braves had won just one more game during that 10-20 stretch and won the wild card spot, they also could have won it all.

Maybe. But probably not.

Which leads to this question: Do the Braves need to make a major move this offseason?

General manager Frank Wren made the right decision dealing pitcher Derek Lowe to Cleveland so early. With the trade of Lowe to Cleveland (which will pay $5 million of his $15 million contract) and the $1.25 million buyout of Nate McLouth (instead of a $10.65 million option year salary), Wren has a better idea of his budget long before baseball’s winter meetings Dec. 5-8.

But to do something major would necessitate moving a major player out of the starting lineup. That’s probably not going to happen.

Folks, the excommunication of Derek Lowe could be as big as it gets.

Here’s how things break down:

• Starting players who won’t change: Brian McCann (catcher), Freddie Freeman (first), Dan Uggla (second), Chipper Jones (third), Michael Bourn (center).

• Starting players who likely aren’t going anywhere: Jason Heyward (right field), Martin Prado (left field/third base).

• Starting position open: shortstop (Alex Gonzalez, a free agent, probably won’t be back).

A major trade or free agent signing — putting the payroll issue aside for a moment — could happen only if the Braves create space. But Heyward is not going to be traded, nor should he be. There is a chance if he continues to struggle that he becomes the fourth outfielder, but that’s way down the Jeff Francoeur Road. The Braves have too much invested in Heyward, and he has too much potential.

The other possibility is that Prado, after a poor 2011 season, goes back to being a utility player, which would open the left field spot. But he was so strong for this team in the 2010 wild card season, arguably the team’s MVP, that I think it would take something significant for Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez to make that decision. Nor is it likely Prado would be traded because he is projected to be the starting third baseman after Jones retires (presumably after next season).

Finally, there’s the matter of who the Braves would be willing to trade. Wren has made it clear he won’t deal any of the team’s young arms, and chances are Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, both coming off injuries, also won’t be dealt, in part because their trade value is down. Even then, it would take a major offer for the Braves to deal Hanson.

So my personal belief is the Braves won’t do anything beyond acquiring a new shortstop and a bench player.

Is that enough?

The way the 2011 season ended left a bad taste. The thinking is that the Braves need to do something major to get people excited again. But I don’t see that happening.

Would you be OK with that? I look forward to your comments.

By Jeff Schultz

249 comments Add your comment

JoshTown

November 1st, 2011
10:04 am

I think a decent shortstop would be great, Prado will hopefully return to form, and if Heyward and Uggla don’t have abysmal first halfs, we should be good to go! Thanks Jeff!

Evan

November 1st, 2011
10:06 am

JoshTown

November 1st, 2011
10:07 am

And I think trying to lock up Bourn for a couple of years would be considered a great step forward. He energized the clubhouse and the fans. Maybe that’s as good as making a move?

Evan

November 1st, 2011
10:08 am

Darn – Second – anyways, With McClouth and Lowe gone how much money do they have to work with? $15m? A good short stop would be nice but who is available? Don’t say Jose Reyes because he is too expensive and too injury prone. Braves are still lefty heavy so another good RH bat could help. Maybe RH bullpen arm is Moylan isn’t expected to return to form.

ClemsonBrad

November 1st, 2011
10:10 am

A team is only as good as it’s pitching…and when our pitching(starting + bullpen) is healthy..it’s arguablly the best in the league.

The hitting absolutely has to improve. There is way too much talent in the lineup to not be a productive lineup. Braves already took care of the slump by hiring a new hitting coach.

So Jeff…I have to say, I think you are right. But, the only thing I will say is I wouldn’t be shocked if they brought back Gonzo for one more year for 1.5-2 million to fill shortstop. I don’t think he would be opposed. If not Gonzo, who can they go after at SS for a quick 1 year fill-in?

PMC

November 1st, 2011
10:11 am

I’m fine with no major moves, especially if they resign Bourn for a few years. The issue is not with the how the team is constructed, the problem is that those players who are counted on have played poor baseball. It’s not that they lack talent. They just are playing terrible.

This offseason is more about the players who are there dedicating themselves to being better players.

Astro Joe

November 1st, 2011
10:11 am

The Braves need to demand more innings from their starting pitchers (6 innings shouldn’t be the standard). A solid defensive SS, a starting rotation that routinely completes 7 innings, a competent hitting coach and improved seasons from Prado, McCann and Heyward should be more than enoough to get them into the post-season. But without a truly dominant ace, it is highly unlikely this team will enjoy postseason success.

@fauxfrankwren

November 1st, 2011
10:11 am

I could see Prado in the Omar Infante role. Yes, Prado had a nice 2010 but I think Wren gets a Cuddyer type to take over for Prado. You can’t have 2 question marks in your starting OF going into camp. If the money isn’t there for a LF’er I would imagine trading a pitcher would be the next option. I don’t think Frank goes into the season without having the OF, which has been brutal the last 5 years, dramatically improved.

2010 BCS CHAMPS

November 1st, 2011
10:12 am

“A team is only as good as it’s pitching”

No not really. Atlanta had the best pitching staff for 10 years and only brought home one WS title.

2010 BCS CHAMPS

November 1st, 2011
10:12 am

Get Kershaw.

SC Ace

November 1st, 2011
10:16 am

Won’t be a major move, but it wouldn’t be a Braves offseason if they didn’t add a veteran to the bullpen mix. And I agree with others that the big move I’d like to see (but I bet Boras won’t let us see it) is an extension for Michael Bourn.

Ryan

November 1st, 2011
10:17 am

Why not move Prado to short, and get a strong player in left? He’s more natural on the dirt, and it might improve his whole game, not to mention smoothing his transition to third. It seems there are more OF options than SS options.

Dawgdad (The Original)

November 1st, 2011
10:18 am

Michael Bourn was a good start, but you don’t win championships with an outfield that hits as poorly as the Braves 2011 version.

They need to make up their mind, are you going to be a speedier team or continue to settle for waiting for one of their non power hitters to get lucky. Which ever way they decide they need to bring in reinforcements. They don’t have enough power to wait for the 3 run dinger nor enough speed to play the manufacturing runs game.

Dawgdad (The Original)

November 1st, 2011
10:20 am

Ryan, Prado has the range of a Herby Curby, no way he plays SS.

McCmann and Aqua Hoss

November 1st, 2011
10:21 am

man man man man….

Don’t forget Kenshin! He gone.

Done

November 1st, 2011
10:21 am

Should never have traded Escobar for Gonzo. Poor trade.

Users Beware

November 1st, 2011
10:22 am

Heyward isn’t starting RF material yet. I’d give Prado another shot in LF. The glaring hole is RF. Go sign a power hitting RF Wren.

Jack

November 1st, 2011
10:22 am

Here is something big the Bravos can do: Get rid of the Tomahawk Chop.

Users Beware

November 1st, 2011
10:23 am

Heyward should start 2012 in minor leagues.

EJ

November 1st, 2011
10:23 am

We need a bat and a SS, so how bout lets try JJ Hardy. He hit 30+ homers and he plays SS.

the truth...

November 1st, 2011
10:26 am

To begin with Moylan is gone for 2012…blew his arm out again….

Secondly….in case you did as Bradley said and did not watch the World Series, the winning teams won with offense….and pitching.

So if anyone thinks that this team is capable of going to the WS as constitued, think again because they are so week offensely it is rediculous.

Dontavius Supremo

November 1st, 2011
10:26 am

So Jeff, what’s the latest on Pendleton? Does he have a shot at St. Louis?

SC Ace

November 1st, 2011
10:35 am

Braves will be more interested in defense than offense at the SS position, whatever you and I might think about it. They’ll want a strong infield defense for their young pitchers. I wouldn’t be surprised if they bring back Gonzalez or Wilson on a 1-year flier. JJ Hardy would be interesting, but they’ll not pony up the years and dollars for him that someone else will.

Don’t forget they’ve got Matt Diaz for that bench role and a possible platoon in LF.

John Pappadapgapoulas

November 1st, 2011
10:36 am

I think there is a very good chance we will see Tyler Pastonickey at SS for at least the first couple of months. The ML minimum salary helps offset some of Lowes money and the kid gets a tryout. Is Heyward playing fall/ winter ball anywhere?

iceBRAVEDcold11

November 1st, 2011
10:39 am

M-E-D-I-O-C-R-E

and the beat goes on

BBart

November 1st, 2011
10:47 am

We need a power hitting right fielder with a cannon for an arm. I’d settle for 285 batting average, around 90 RBI, 20 or so homers, ability to steal.

No – wait – we canned Jeff Francoeur and promoted Heyward…

VABravesFan

November 1st, 2011
10:48 am

They need to get at least one of the following:

1. An established veteran starting pitcher who can be expected to go 7 or more a night (Buerhle, Vazquez?) to give the bullpen some rest.
2. The more exciting addition, however, would be the addition of another power hitter, but the price would be high.

BBart

November 1st, 2011
10:50 am

We are saddled with a no-hustle defensive hole of a third baseman, a manager who doesn’t understand that you can’t win all the games if you are ruining your bullpen, few returning starting pitchers who aren’t injured. Don’t be surprised if several of those bullpen stars go down with injuries next year and are never the same.

And – they just told us not to expect any major changes. Thank goodness we don’t have to deal with this team until baseball season…

Smoltzfan

November 1st, 2011
10:51 am

Jeff, why aren’t we hearing Kawakami’s name when speaking free payroll space? He’s pitching in Missippi these days…..

Herschel Talker

November 1st, 2011
10:55 am

Schultzie:

“Do the Braves need to make a major move this offseason?”

Yes. FIRE FREDI GONZALEZ. As long as he is around or anyone associated with Bobby, the culture of choke will persist.

HT

Skeezix

November 1st, 2011
11:00 am

I hope you are not right Jeff, but I fear that you are. I will be disappointed if we don’t add some offensive punch in the outfield. I was disappointed that it wasn’t done before last season. Counting on McLouth to deliver was just plain stupid. The Braves have a puny offense. And the pitching, while very good, is not dominating enough to compensate for a weak offense. The fan base has not recovered from Sept.’s debacle and the addition of a solid/reliable power hitter to the OF would help raise some spirits and hope for next season. The addition of another one of Wren’s favorites–a .230/.240 hitter would just be depressing.

Bluestreak

November 1st, 2011
11:00 am

All of the Braves moves have been done via Black Ops since the AJ Burnett attraction and Rafi Furcal ‘incident’. I think the Braves stregthen their bench with a couple of pickups, but one will be by acquiring a starting LF. Prado will move to a super utility role and likely end up playing almost every day (probably even starting every day and giving someone a breather). Another brench player will likely be added (a certain Penn quarterback comes to mind). Willingham makes some sense for LF.

And KK is gone. He was so insignificant during his last year, his contract faded off the books at the end of the season.

Cap Tipper

November 1st, 2011
11:00 am

How many two out hits with runners in scoring position did Michael Bourn get after he came over ? Don’t do another Uggla

Brian Asselstine

November 1st, 2011
11:00 am

Heyward has moor holes in his swing than a slice of swiss cheese. John Kruks quote earlier this year was, “how does a guy with as big a hole in his swing get to play in the major league? I dont understand.” ATL’s pitching is overrated. Huddy is failrly reliable but other than him and the pen, who is totally reliable? Get a true run producer in the outfield and lock up Bourn. Another possibility is to give Constanza a shot in outfield. 2 speedy guys always on abse in front of Uggs, McCann, Chipper and Freddi. You could afford to keep the good fielding streaky hitting SS. They were 9 games up in WC when Fredi decided to sit Constanza and go back to JHeyIamoverrated.

Sonny Clusters

November 1st, 2011
11:01 am

More of the same and “almost good” . . . the fans are going to demand more. Michael Bourn plays with intensity and desire and we was wondering if he will turn into an Atlanta Braves player on that count or will his good attitude rub off on some of the Braves? Right now, they are all part of the flu-like symptoms culture and that gets them an occassional trip to the playoffs (or not) and a quick exit. Some changes need to happen. It was an EPIC collapse. It will be interesting to see how spring training may change (or not) and if the team will get focused or just try to keep the ol’ veteran happy.

Nathan

November 1st, 2011
11:01 am

Michael Bourn for a full year and guys like Heyward and Prado rebounding and having nice years will be what the Braves need to get back to what they are expected to be. They won 89 games on an offense that really was historically awful. Any small marginal improvement would put them at 90+ wins and in good position in October 2012.

Bob Dider Caught Here

November 1st, 2011
11:03 am

Jeff,

I would be more than ok with the Braves bringing in a servicable (I know….not word but hey this is a blog) shortstop and a bench player.

Terry

November 1st, 2011
11:03 am

Retire Chipper $18 million per year for a part time player is too much. Prado can probably hit 15-20 home runs playing third. Sign a big bopper for left. Everybody loves and appreciates Chipper, but you can’t let your love for players cripple the long term prospects of your team. We probably could have got a few more (expensive) innings from Smoltz and Glavine, but the team wisely passed to develop the new young guns.

Ken Stallings

November 1st, 2011
11:09 am

Schultz, there is something that does not add up in your assertion of no major offseason moves. By trading for Lowe, the Braves eat $5 million of a $15 million contract. The buyout vice option on McLouth add another near $5 million. So, are you saying the Braves plan to pocket that $15 million in an actual payroll reduction? If that’s the case, then Liberty Media doesn’t care about winning and the Braves are squandering next season. If so, then why should fans care enough to purchase tickets?

Vomax

November 1st, 2011
11:11 am

@fauxfrankwren: Prado had just as nice of a 2009, and a second half of 2008. Don’t shortchange him.

I may be way off-base here, but as a one-year stopgap, why not consider furcal for SS? guess there still may be the proverbial “bad blood” about the last time the braves tried to sign him (when it looked like his agent was simply using atlanta’s offer as leverage for a deal with the dodgers), but it’s a thought — use him as a bridge to pastornicky.

Have they??????

November 1st, 2011
11:11 am

Have the Braves released Kawakami yet? If not, what are they waiting on?

bj

November 1st, 2011
11:12 am

J Carroll SS free agent from Dodgers would be a good pick up..can do it all except power.

Bob Dider Caught Here

November 1st, 2011
11:12 am

I’d also like to let the Braves know I’m available for pinch hitting duties

bj

November 1st, 2011
11:12 am

kk’s contract is up..he is history and will play in japan next year.

Good Riddance to Kawasucki

November 1st, 2011
11:14 am

Glad Kawasucki is gone then….what an absolute waste of money and roster spot.

bj

November 1st, 2011
11:14 am

Put Diaz and Conrad on the road…

fan of the game

November 1st, 2011
11:18 am

why not take a look at pastornicky if hes not ready keep gonzalez at 1.5 to 2 millon to play short for us.

chipper says this is his last year so that will free up some real money after 2012, i think david wright is also a free agent after the end of this season.

2013 infield could look like this 1b freeman 2b uggla ss pastornicky 3b wright

has some real potential any thoughts

hal

November 1st, 2011
11:27 am

trade heyward the never was and never will be most over rated jerk in baseball history not atlanta braves history ive never rembered a player so hypeds and si o utterly uselesss i seee american legion kids with better swings and bteer knowledge of the game hes a complete waste of the earths oxogen lol

fastball

November 1st, 2011
11:28 am

Sorry, but Bourn strikeouts out way to much for a lead off hitter. Also after he arrived in Atlanta his stolen bases went down. He stood at first base and watched Prado and Chipper strikeout. Was it because Fredi held him down? If so, why do we need a stolen base threat. ….Okay, so lets run, get a Manager that plays the running game. Consider Reyes or Rollins …inquire about Morrison from the Marlins. Trade McCann while he’s still near the top (he can’t see and his side is going to be a problem). There’s alot of needs here people.

moboman

November 1st, 2011
11:30 am

Braves will entertain a GREAT offer for either JJ or Hanson, and should. JJ to injury prone, and Hanson will never last long term unless he changes his mechanics. For the right player, I would move one of them.